Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

Please don't think this is the rant of a bitter, old shut-in. Today is my birthday (July 29) and since I worked on Sunday, I took today off as comp time. My friend Susan and her husband Bill arrived a couple of weeks ago at their get away place in Key Largo. I contacted her about coming for a birthday lunch and she said yes. When I lived in Athens, Susan was always gone for the summer so this has been the first opportunity to celebrate my birthday with her since I've known her.

Susan warned us that with today and tomorrow being the 'lobster mini season' that traffic might be heavy. We got an early start but the lobster enthusiasts must have gotten an earlier start. We arrived in under an hour even with stops to get gas and some sundries at the drugstore. Don brought his trunks and hit the water (their place has its own beachfront) while Susan and I caught up and her husband finished his shower. We had a short drive down the road to an oceanside restaurant. Don had the most interesting item from the menu: tuna nachos! This was an Asian seasoned reworking of marinated raw tuna served on won ton chips. He generously shared a few bites and it was delicious. Nonetheless I was still content with my chilled shrimp and coleslaw. Susan had birthday cake waiting for me at her house with some strong coffee. We'll probably make a return visit next week when her grandchildren Henry and Beatrix arrive.

We made a quick trip to the Wild Bird Rescue Center before it started raining. There's nothing like walking around among pelicans, herons, egrets, cranes, and various other feathered friends. They also appear to live in peace with a few cats on the property. We got back to the car just as the light sprinkles turned into a real downpour.

We thought about making a few other visits on US1 but the rain made going home the more desirable option. We jumped on the turnpike and got back to Kendrall Breeze West. My sister Janet left a message on the answering machine wishing me a happy birthday. She mentioned my mother wasn't feeling well yesterday which may account for why I didn't get the usual 6:30am birthday phone call from her this morning. I may need to call her soon.

I've read the mail, checked my e-mail and now wait for 'Jeopardy.' Here's the one lament I have as another birthday goes by. I don't mind getting older. However, in January 2008 I qualified as a potential 'Jeopardy' contestant during their talent search in Miami. They cautioned us that they collect more contestants than they need and we would go into the contestant file for 18 months. Do the math. The approach of August means my little contestant card goes into the circular file cabinet or whatever they do to purge the list.

Sigh, no meeting Alec Trebeck, no dazzling anyone with a daring 'Double Jeopardy,' no ringing in on the buzzer, or swooping in to answer a question miffed by one of my rivals. I guess somethings aren't meant to be.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rainy Days in London...

When I left Berlin last Thursday, it was 6am, cold and breezy. The weather was also a premonition of what I'd be facing in London. The last few weeks before departing for Europe, I'd been reading that it was already very hot in London. It's been very much the opposite. Yesterday was the worst in terms on rainfall. No thunderstorms but an off and on persistent drizzle.

Back to the start. At Schonefeld Airport, I discovered Stephanie RocĂ­o Miles of Harvard was on my Ryanair flight. It appears we're the only 2 salalmistas to arrive in London post-conference. We took the bus into the city and parted ways for our respective hotels at the Liverpool St. Station.

I'm staying at the Thanet Hotel in Bloomsbury and my single room is every bit as small as I expected it to be. The tiny room in Hotel San Antonio Abad in Lima was palatial compared to this. On the other hand, it's July, and even though this area is full of hotels I expect they're all booked and anything larger would bust my travel budget. In the meantime I have managed to make myself comfortable. It's a nice old building, the staff are very friendly, and the buffet breakfast is generous. I haven't needed the fan yet what with the drop in temperature and I haven't needed the extra blanket they placed in my wardrobe. The immediate area is full of restaurants, the bus stop on my street goes to Oxford Street (the British Museum is on the way), and the Russell Square underground station is 5 minutes in the opposite direction.

The hotel is also just down the street from the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. Friday morning I had a good conversation with their librarian about contributing some of their collections into the Digital Library of the Caribbean. What with summer holidays here, it'll take time to work out details but time is on our side. Alas, no news yet about the TICFIA awards.

Once finished there, I found Marchmont Street where I wanted to locate the laundrette mentioned in my hotel guide. I chose not to use the Hotel Maritim's laundry service but did need to make sure I would have fresh underwear for my remaining time. I also discovered the lovely Brunswick shopping arcade set into an apartment complex. More shops and restaurants there so I also stopped for lunch and visited Superdrugs for some needed toiletries. The hotel was closeby so I ran by the room to drop my purchases and then set out for my 2:30 tour of the British Library.

The BL is only a slightly longer walk and I made it with time to browse the gift shop. It wasn't too surprising to find Stephanie in the books section. Librarians can never resist browsing shelves. We then went to the information desk where they produced visitor tags and rung Geoff West. They reported Geoff would be with us shortly but Aquiles Alencar Brayner was on his way down. Stephanie hadn't met Aquiles in SALALM so by the time hands got shaken, Geoff had arrived.

What a place the British Library is! It's huge. There's a large courtyard in the entrance but once you're inside, you see lots of steps, signs, and in the back a huge rising stack of old volumes. This is the Imperial Library founded by George III. The stacks rising in the center of the building hints at the 4 underground floors of stacks of the other collections.

Geoff and Alencar walked us up and down various levels to see the different reading rooms and discuss various configurations the library has seen since the building opened in 1998. There's great emphasis on making it open to the public. Free wi-fi is available in the building. In addition to the restaurants and cafes, there are nice chairs with matching tables for plugging in one's computer to work. The atmosphere reminded me of how our students fill every possible space in the FIU Library to use their laptops.

The library has a special exhibit on Henry VIII and Geoff nicely supplied complimentary tickets for it. Stephanie opted to join me today at Sunday to see it. After tea and lattes with Geoff and Alencar, Stephanie and I also looked at the exhibit of special treasures of the BL. It's great to see manuscripts by Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf (there's also an audio panel where you can hear her giving a reading), and a marvelous interactive room devoted to the Magna Carta. I have to confess a modest display on the Beatles really touched me. There are manuscripts of Lennon and McCartney manuscripts. The audio panel for them has familiar songs but I got a real kick out of the Fan Club Christmas Disk sent out in 1963. They all send out Christmas greetings to their fans accompanied by hoots from the others, jingle bells, and creative takes on standard Christmas songs. You can hear the enthusiasm in this part of their career, their appreciation of fans' support and liking for one another. Ringo reminds us he was the newest member who'd just joined the year before. What a time machine!

Saturday I woke up and discovered the weather gods were active. I dumped some of my plans for primarily outdoor activities, and headed on the bus to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. That was a nice way to pass an afternoon with a late lunch, and then back to the room to collect laundry and make my way back to the laundrette. Luckily it wasn't crowded and a woman doing her wash provided change when I ran short, and information on how to start the washing machines and driers. I picked up a sandwich for dinner back at the hotel.

This morning started with a hint of sunshine through my window. I made my way back to the British Library and found Stephanie waiting outside the gate for the 11am opening. I enjoyed the exhibit. The documentary artifacts were many, I strapped on the audio guide so I could garner the various facts associated with the exhibit. You get a better sense of the king beyond the usual 6 wives melodramas.

Stephanie and I parted ways and I made my way down to the Victoria and Albert Museum. I'd finally gotten the courage to take the London underground and it's still more confusing than the systems I know well in Atlanta and Washington DC. There was a helpful information desk that got me on the right track. I took in many exhibits at the V&A with fashion, a special exhibit on the Baroque, and many halls of beautiful Asian art works from all regions. Lunch in the V&A was in a beautiful dining room from the period but slightly refurbished with bright shimmering balls suspended from the ceiling for light. Somehow it looked like Studio 54 did some time travel into the Victorian age.

From the V&A I visited that other British institution, Harrod's. Everyone else in London appeared to be there for their summer sales! The food halls were elbow to elbow. My favorite thing to see there was the Krispy Kremes counter. It was very popular! I found some quieter floors for refuge up in books but eventually made my way back on the tube and back to the hotel. Another quiet evening so I'm planning my itinerary for tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I Am Here and So Is Checkpoint Charlie!

I arrived in Berlin on Thursday night after a long night and day of travel. I left Miami on an overnight flight on Virgin Atlantic. This is my first time taking them but they won the airfare competition out of Miami. I don't like overnight plane rides. I can never sleep and most of the flights connecting me to Berlin involved a long enough layover where I would have been miserable, feeling wornout and ready for a shower and nap. I discovered the Yotel in Terminal 4 of Heathrow. This is a compact cabin hotel based on the Japanese cubicle hotel rooms but a little bigger, plus you can book it for 4 hour increments. Perfect!

Why must we march for miles and miles off an international flight to get to the immigration lounge? Heathrow has little air conditioning which does not help the experience. Getting through the line once I got to there was relatively quick. The great signage helped me find the express train between terminals to go to the Yotel. I got to my Superior Cabin at 10:15am, only 15 minutes late for my booking. The bed is kind of a reverse murphy bed. It looks like an upright sofa but you press a button on the side and the whole thing slides down each rail on the side to spread out. I had a snack, a nap, and shower, and then went back to Terminal 3 to the Central Bus Station for my coach ride to the Stanstead airport and my Ryanair flight to Berlin.

I had a sandwich at the Caffe Nero at the bus station and then waited for my coach to arrive and then leave at 3:35. I still napped on the way (it's 90 min.) but occasionally woke up to view the country side. I saw an old Norman tower on some land off the expressway. I only caught a glimpse and would have liked to know its history. How long has it been there? Anything momentous happen there?

Heathrow was busy and crowded but I got through it. Stanstead was a mess. The self-service kiosks weren't working despite the signs to use them. That meant going to a 3 row deep check-in that appeared to move slowly. I got checked in and was reassured that my flight would be held open for all passengers. Still, by the time I got through security and sprinted through the long, winding gate, my flight was boarding for departure in 60 min. They decided to open the rear of the plane to enter so I managed to scoot into a seat and relax.

I landed at Schonefeld airport which is a little further out but it was a fast trip to the Hotel Maritim. The young man at reception couldn't find my reservation. Did I know there's another Maritim hotel in town and had I confused them? I showed him my printout of the reservation confirmation and he agreed I was in the right place. At last it turned out he was searching under Gayle rather than Williams! I got to the room and was quite happy to hit a real bed.

Friday was my rest day. I discovered the hotel's massive breakfast buffet and started seeing salalmistas. I made my way over to the Sony Center and discovered the German Film Museum. 6 euros later I wandered through the history of German film. It's full of mixed media and you start from the 3rd floor and wander down. Signage is in both German and English and some of the audio interviews were English as well. I liked the parts on the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Marlene Dietrich. The first floor exhibit commemorates the 20th year of reunification through the photos and videos of German citizens, global news coverage of the events, and locally made film documentaries for West and East German television.

After a tasty lunch at Vapiano's, I wanted to walk up to the Brandenberg Gate but got caught in an afternoon rainstorm. I was drenched and while drying off under an awning discovered Anne Barnhardt and Dora Loh were next door having lunch. They saw me so I finished drying off and talking with them until the rain was gone. They went up to Brandenberg before LAMP while I went back to the hotel after grabbing a sandwich for the room. I got there, got dry and cozy but didn't feel like going back out for the 8:30 showing the IAI exhibit.

So, yesterday and today were SALALM committee meetings. More friends are coming in but it's easy to see this will be a much smaller group than usual. Such are the ways of the economic downturn. In the meantime I hope to get out again and discover more of this intriguing city!